Small space, big lessons

Published 8:02 am Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sumner students work on the community garden at Sumner Elementary School last week. Though a small garden, the space packs big lessons. Photo provided

Parents, check your child’s thumbs. Are they green? If so, they may be learning about gardening at Sumner Elementary School.

Sumner students are growing several types of vegetables in a straw bale garden in front of the school this summer as part of a community integration project.

“Our green space is kind of limited, so we wanted to do something to maximize our space and at the same time give our kids and families a chance to learn about gardening,” said Kristi Beckman, integration coordinator for Austin Public Schools.

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Beckman said she came up with the idea with Ruth Greenslade, who taught nutrition as part of an after school program throughout the district last year. Greenslade took a straw bale gardening course and thought the concept might work at Sumner.

The Sumner Gardening Committee, made up of about 16 students and their families, started work on the garden in mid-May, watering and fertilizing the the straw bale garden so it would be ready to grow. Students planted cherry tomatoes, carrots, beans, and lettuce on June 7, and each volunteer has watched over the garden since.

Parents stand with their children next to the community garden near Sumner last Thursday.

Sumner families are starting to enjoy the fruits of their labor, as students harvested some of their lettuce crop last week.

“The students are taking away a lot more than I would have dreamed,” Beckman said. “They are learning math skills, how to estimate the perimeter of the fence, how to measure distances between plants, how much water a garden needs, what kind of seeds can be planted, what kind of plants should be planted in order.”

What’s more, students are learning the benefits of hard work.

“They’ve developed a taste for vegetables and the pride of eating something that they grew,” Beckman said.

Students won’t harvest the garden until school starts at the end of the month. Yet the community effort to keep the garden healthy and growing will stay.

“It’s a good symbol of the community that is at Sumner,” Beckman said.